Weekly Pulse: The Religious Right vs. Birth Control

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Does health care reform’s promise of preventive care extend to free birth control? Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have 18 months to decide whether to require insurers to provide oral contraceptives, IUDs, and other prescription birth control with no co-pay. With pro-choice Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the helm, HHS is expected to say yes. [Update: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that birth control will not be on the White House's preliminary list of free preventive services, to be issued today. However, as Miriam Perez of feministing explains, HHS will ultimately have the final word. Observers, including Dana Goldstein who covers reproductive rights for the Daily Beast, are optimistic that the pro-choice side will carry the day at HHS.]

At this point in the process, social conservatives are shut out in the cold, quaking with impotent rage. Now that the reform bill is law, HHS has to interpret the rules—and the Obama administration officials at HHS can’t be swayed as easily as elected officials.

Religious right on the warpath

Predictably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Abstinence Education Association, and the Heritage Foundation are up in arms. They’ve picked a deeply unpopular battle. Abortion remains controversial in some circles, but birth control is as American as baseball. The vast majority of sexually active women in the U.S. tell pollsters that they are not trying to become pregnant, and 89% of them are using some form of birth control.

“Seriously,” writes Monica Potts of TAPPED, “a battle over contraceptives?” Over 15 million Americans currently use hormonal contraception. Studies show that the vast majority of Americans are morally comfortable with birth control.

Expanding access to birth control is smart policy because it reduces health care costs, as Suzi Khimm notes in Mother Jones. Birth control is a lot cheaper for insurers than pregnancy and childbirth. Free birth control could change women’s lives for the better. In this economy, $30-$50 a month for hormonal birth control can be a major obstacle for many. As Michelle Chen notes in ColorLines, women of color are among those hardest hit by out-of-pocket costs.

Birth control as common ground?

Many centrists hope that contraception will be a source of “common ground” between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps. The premise sounds reasonable. If anti-choicers oppose abortion, surely they will support measures proven to reduce the abortion rate, like expanded access to contraception. Political scientist Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED that conservative opposition to birth control coverage is further proof that the common ground hypothesis is wishful thinking:

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it ignores the broader set of assumptions about women and sexuality on which actual opposition to abortion is based. Consider anti-choice Republicans, who consistently opposed expanding contraceptive use: Given the choice between reducing abortion rates and controlling female sexuality, they will always choose the latter. Thus the idea that contraception can be a means of achieving a ceasefire in the culture wars has always been a fantasy. Liberals and conservatives aren’t just divided by abortion but by broader questions of female equality and sexual freedom.

The USCCB clearly understands that birth control is broadly popular. Its lobbyists aren’t even trying to argue that birth control shouldn’t be covered because it’s sinful. Instead, they are playing semantic games about what constitutes preventative health care. According to the USCCB, birth control shouldn’t count because fertility isn’t a disease. Be that as it may, pregnancy is a life-altering health condition that can kill you. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is on the record as saying that pregnant women must sacrifice their own lives for their fetuses. Ergo, pregnancy prevention is preventive health care.

Approving free birth control would go a long way towards restoring the trust between the Obama administration and its pro-choice base, at low political cost. It seems unlikely that the USCCB and its allies have the power to fuel a national backlash on this one. After all, three quarters of U.S. Catholics disagree with their own church’s teachings on birth control.

Conscience concerns

Speaking of the Department of Health and Human Services, Megan Carpentier at RH Reality Check wonders what happened to President Barack Obama’s early promise to repeal the so-called “conscience clause” rule that allows health care workers to opt out of providing reproductive health care that conflicts with their anti-choice principles. The rule is still on the books, over a year after Obama pledged to repeal it.

FEMA Foul

Finally, how did some BP oil spill cleanup workers end up living in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailers ruled unfit for human habitation? As I report for Working In These Times, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants answers from FEMA and the General Services Administration about how these trailers found their way back onto the market.

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Southern Baptists join progressives on comprehensive immigration reform

Charles wrote the other day that the Tea Party and Religious Right are merging, citing the Family Research Council’s endorsement of and prayers for TP principals. That’s true as far as it goes, but I think the full picture of evangelical politics is broader than that. A few months ago, I highlighted that, like many other evangelical groups, the Christian Coalition – the group started by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed – had endorsed Lindsey Graham’s efforts to work with John Kerry on climate legislation. Now it’s the Southern Baptists supporting the White House on immigration.

A recent Politico headline said “GOP warned on immigration” and talked about a possible shift among evangelicals who really do support the “compassion” Bush pretended to stand for. We’re not talking about the progressive American or black National Baptists, but the fundamentalist Southern Baptists. The equally conservative National Association of Evangelicals, which fired policy guru Rich Cizik for supporting civil unions, is also inching to the left on this issue. Here’s the Baptist Press on the Rev. Richard Land, who has headed the Southern Baptist Convention’s official public policy wing since 1988:

"There are some things that require presidential leadership, and the immigration issue is one of them," said Land, who attended [President Obama’s] July 1 speech at American University in Washington, D.C. "This speech by the president, in and of itself, will not solve the immigration crisis, but this speech was a necessary prerequisite to bringing about a fair and just solution to the immigration crisis that is rending the social fabric of our nation.

"In any marriage, you have to first have an initial proposal," he said. "The president proposed this morning. It's up to the Congress to now accept that proposal or to construct its own proposal and to bring forth a bill that will consummate the marriage. We need to call upon our congressmen and senators to behave like statesmen. Politicians think about the next election; statesmen think about the next generation."…

In 2006, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on immigration that urged increased border security, enforcement of the laws, and judicious and realistic dealings with illegal immigrants, while encouraging Christian outreach to immigrants regardless of their legal status…

Other evangelical leaders attending who support comprehensive reform were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council.

And what exactly does “realistic dealings with illegal immigrants” mean? Land told NPR last month, “The vast majority of these people are law abiding citizens once they've gotten here. They've worked hard. It's not realistic that we're going to round them up and send them home… I think that we need to have a pathway, an earned pathway to legal status or citizenship, whichever they prefer.”

There will always be “libertarian” folks in the woods who have their God and have their Gun and want to be left alone. There will also always be authoritarian-minded families in the suburbs who just want to be told what to believe because that’s easier. These folks, however, may make up the backbone of the Tea Party, but they are no longer representative of white evangelical voters in this country. The younger generation is splitting from the old guard, as happens every few decades in evangelical politics. True, the Politico article cites a poll showing most evangelicals don't necessarily agree with Land, but it was also less than two years ago that a PBS-commissioned GQR poll found a majority of self-identified evangelicals under 30 support either gay marriage or civil unions. This is no longer a movement, I don’t think, that can be painted with one broad brush.

Christian Coalition Declares Support For John Kerry’s Climate Efforts

It’s official: the religious right no longer dominates evangelical politics. The movement has outgrown its narrow focus on school prayer, abortion, and homophobia. Evangelicals have been trending this way for several years, but concrete change came today as the Christian Coalition endorsed John Kerry and Lindsey Graham's efforts to pass a major clean energy and climate change bill. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian Coalition, it’s the organization formed out of the remnants of Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign and brought to prominence by Ralph Reed – what Democracy for America is to Howard Dean, and the backbone of the religious right in the early 1990s.)

I have long been intrigued by the changing nature of evangelical politics. It was the subject of my undergraduate thesis: evangelicals never cease their political involvement, but every few decades, the nature of that involvement changes. Since the mid-1970s, evangelical politics have been in the era of the “religious right,” but that era is coming to a close. Evangelicals aren’t abandoning their positions on the aforementioned wedge issues, but they are changing their rhetoric and beginning to care about justice issues. All the evidence, though, has been circumstantial, with plenty to counter it: Individual megachurch pastors, like Rick Warren, call for a more civil discourse and a focus on more than just two or three issue, but always meet with sharp rebukes from the likes of James Dobson. A poll showed young evangelicals, while as pro-life as their parents, are also pro-civil-unions, but there’s no sign of political action to back it up. The Christian Coalition elected a president concerned with creation care (climate change) and poverty in 2006, but ousted him before he took office.

So while thousands of evangelical churches are “greening” their congregations, whether or not personal commitment to “creation care” would translate to political action has always been a slippery question. Today, I think, we finally have a solid answer. This isn’t just a generational shift like in the above poll; it’s the old guard seeing the light and braodening their focus. The current leader, Roberta Combs, took over as president for Pat Robertson in 2001 and led the aforementioned ouster of her 2006 replacement, but says the following in a new radio ad:

President Bush was right: our addiction to foreign oil threatens our national security and economic prosperity. America spends almost a billion dollars a day on foreign oil and a lot of that goes to countries that do not like us and harbor terrorists. Washington's failure to act puts our national security at risk, and drains our economy. I've heard from so many Christian Coalition supporters that energy is one of the most important issues we face today. America is a can-do country. We've got to take the lead to explore energy alternatives and protect our national security. We have to make our country safer by creating jobs with the made-in-America energy plan. I would like to ask you to call Sen. Lindsey Graham and encourage him to continue fighting for our families.

Evangelical politics are same-old same-old on abortion and, for now, gay rights. They are and always will be fundamentally conservative, but that doesn’t mean the progressive movement should reject a strong partner on specific issues such as the fight against climate change. With the forced ouster of James Dobson at Focus on the Family, the movement’s rhetoric and willingness to cooperate seems to be changing, and that’s an outstretched hand I say we take where we can. Assuming the KGL bill doesn’t give too much away to coal, we need to do whatever it takes to pass it. This just might be the “change” voters were looking for: not just in policy outcomes, but in rhetoric and advocacy as well.

Maine: More Lies from the Bigots

(Also at Nevada Progressive)

Already, the liars are back with an even more outrageous lie.

They just won't stop. Even though Maine's Attorney General has declared this a lie, they keep at it. They know what they say are lies, so they're just following the old KKKarl Rove tactic of saying it enough until people believe it.

Unfortunately it worked in California, so the Yes on H8/Yes on 1 radical right Californicators are trying to do it again in Maine. We can't let them succeed. No on 1 has already done some great ads to fight back...

But they obviously have more work to do to fight the lies and get the truth out. We still have time to help them, so let's make sure they have enough resources to keep fighting. The forces of inequality know this is their last chance to stop progress, so they're throwing everything including the kitchen sink at us. We all know the story of California, so let's make sure it isn't repeated in Maine.

We know how this homophobic H8 campaign hurt millions of California families, so Maine's LGBT families need to be defended. Please help make calls this weekend and please donate whatever you can to make protect equality and fundamental civil rights for Maine's LGBT families.

There's more...

Days of Awe(kward)

First, the Family Research Councilheld its "Values Voters Summit" on Rosh HaShanah.  Maybe they figured it was a good way to avoid the embarrassment of having any Jews show up because they thought "Values" actually meant "values." Or more likely none of them knew or cared when Rosh HaShanah was.  That, or they were looking for a way to keep the liberal media away from their conference.

Now, Glenn Beck is calling for a day of "fast and prayer" on...Yom Kippur?  Are the right-wingers trying to win us back?

Wonder what the right-of-right-wingers are cooking up for Sukkot...

In unrelated news, Norman Podhoretz just spent a book puzzling over Why Are Jews Liberals?

There's more...

Diaries

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